Episode 5.14 "A Christmas Carol" - Kazran (Michael Gambon), Young Kazran (Laurence Belcher) and The Doctor (Matt Smith) © 2010 BBC

It’s already a cliché that a Doctor Who Christmas special is an integral part of Christmas time. Up until now the specials have been a bit of lightweight nonsense; something to watch through the stupor of Christmas Day festivities.

But now there has been a change. Lead writer Steven Moffat continues his reworking of the programme with an episode that actually has a Christmas theme, and a story!

Episode 5.14 "A Christmas Carol" - Kazran (Michael Gambon), The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Abigail Pettigrew (Katherine Jenkins) © 2010 BBC

Once again he plays with the ideas of time travel, using its possibilities to the full, although closer inspection reveals flaws. The trick here is that the flaws don’t shout out from the start, and their existence really doesn’t matter. That is the skill of Moffat’s writing and plotting.

The story is itself an unashamed re-working of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This couldn’t be a version where the Doctor is unaware he’s part of the story, since, as Moffat points out, the Doctor has met Charles Dickens and knows his stories. So here the Doctor uses the idea to try to reform a hardened and bitter character.

[pullquote]Michael Gambon perfect casting elevates the episode to a new level[/pullquote]

That character is played by Michael Gambon, whose perfect casting elevates the episode to a new level and takes the series away from its bias towards children and childish things. Magic!

Even the fantastical side to the story works. Where else would we see a shark pulling a carriage through the skies in the style of Father Christmas on his sleigh? It’s almost a little dig at least year’s BBC1 Christmas symbol with Tenant’s Doctor riding the Police Box in the same style.

Another plus point is the brief appearance of Amy Pond, blundering around. This is the Doctor’s story, and it works the more for that.

The only question that remains is how can Moffat top this next Christmas?

[Rating: 4]

Episode 5.14 "A Christmas Carol" - Kazran (Michael Gambon) and Abigail Pettigrew (Katherine Jenkins) on a cart pulled by a shark © 2010 BBC

Jan Vincent-Rudzki

UK editor of Film Review Online More by Jan Vincent-Rudzki